Pro cyclist riding 1,000 kilometers for Ukrainian refugees

Getty Images
5 Comments

Australian professional cyclist Lachlan Morton, whose ultra-endurance feats have benefited charities around the world over the years, is undertaking another epic ride to raise money in support of Ukrainian war refugees.

The 30-year-old rider for American team EF Education-EasyPost will depart from Munich on a nonstop, 1,063-kilometer odyssey that will carry him through the Czech Republic and Poland and ultimately to the Ukraine border at Krakovets.

Morton was inspired to undertake his latest ride while racing the Gran Camino in Spain. He was having breakfast with his Ukrainian teammate, Mark Padun, when news broke that Russia had invaded the country. Morton began poring over maps on the internet and thought to himself, “I could actually do this.”

“That made it hit closer to home, having a teammate who is directly impacted by it,” Morton said. “I found it hard to focus on trying to get ready for a race when something so significant was happening in the world.

“I’m a pretty optimistic person generally,” said Morton, a native of Port Macquarie in Australia’s New South Wales, “but in the past couple of weeks I’ve just felt that there has been very little to be excited about. It’s hard to get your head around. It’s surreal in a way. You watch the news and the news is so heavy that you almost disengage from it.”

Morton has accomplished plenty in his professional cycling career: He won the Tour of Utah, competed in the Giro d’ Italia and Vuelta a Espana – two of the three Grand Tours – and was second in last year’s Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race.

Yet it’s been Morton’s charity rides, where he races only against himself, that have made perhaps the biggest impact.

Last summer, he rode the entire Tour de France route, including the hundreds of miles between stages when racers would normally be transferred by motor coach, and he did it entirely self-supported. He wound up traveling 3,424 miles in 19 days and raised more than $600,000 to purchase thousands of bicycles for World Bicycle Relief.

His goal this time is a bit more modest: raise $50,000 for Ukrainian refugees.

“I’m not an overly political person. I’m not an expert in any of this,” he said. “I’m just trying to do the one thing I know how to do and engage the bike-riding community to help. My idea is to highlight the fact that war is not a far-off problem. Conflicts are a bike ride away all over the world. That’s the intention behind it, and to try and raise as much money as we can to help out people who have been displaced.”

Morton’s often-audacious rides are rare in cycling for the simple fact that his professional team, led by former American rider Jonathan Vaughters, actually supports the efforts. Many other teams micromanage riders with strict training plans that are designed to deliver them at their peak to the most important races on the calendar.

In fact, the team’s primary sponsor, EF Education First, along with bike sponsor Cannondale and apparel sponsor Rapha, have committed $100,000 to GlobalGiving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. The money will be used to provide refugees with food, shelter, clean water and health care along with access to education and other economic assistance.

There are no major bike races in Russia, unlike sports such as tennis or soccer, but the Gazprom-RusVelo pro team has been banned by the International Cycling Union from competition. The team, which has nine Russian riders, is sponsored by PJSC Gazprom, a multinational energy company with links to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Several of that team’s sponsors, including bike manufacturer Look, cancelled their partnerships after the invasion.

“The UCI calls for an immediate halt to the hostilities in Ukraine and firmly condemns Russia’s violation of international law,” the governing body’s president, David Lappartient, said in a statement late last month. “Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian people as well as Ukraine’s cycling community. No UCI event is scheduled to take place in Russia or Belarus in 2022.”

Still, there are dozens of professional riders tied to Russia and Ukraine competing on the World Tour. One of them, Pavel Sivakov, switched his nationality from Russian to French after the invasion – a move that took effect immediately when it came to bike races. Sivakov was born in Italy and raised in France by Russian parents.

“I am totally against this war and all my thoughts are with the Ukrainian people,” Sivakov said in a statement. “Like most people around the world right now, I hope for peace and a swift end to the suffering happening in the Ukraine.”

Then there’s Padun, a former Ukrainian time trial national champion, who has provided the inspiration behind Morton’s charity ride this weekend. He was born in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, which has long been an epicenter of pro-Russian separatists, and still has family and friends living in the war-torn nation.

“Honestly, I don’t know what people should do. I don’t know what I personally can do,” Padun said. “It is difficult to fully concentrate because you are aware that a war is still happening in your country. What the people of Ukraine need is for the war to be stopped. But what Lachlan is doing is good. The more people who are speaking about this, the better. It is great that he is raising money for Ukrainian refugees, too.”

Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

4 Comments

ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

5 Comments

ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”